The Buckshot's Here

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, February 21, 2006; 1:09 PM

Vice President Cheney's hunting accident lives on this week on newsstands everywhere, with Time and Newsweek cover stories serving up new details about its aftermath as well as a great deal of conjecture about what Cheney's misadventure says about his pysche and his political standing.

Meanwhile, 10 days after the vice president shot a hunting buddy in the face -- and in spite of New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller's insistence that "[t]he Cheney story now seems to have completed its trajectory" -- it's worth noting that the many questions raised in my column all last week remain almost entirely unanswered.

For instance: Was Cheney in any way reckless? What do other witnesses have to say? In short: What exactly happened out there?

What was the real reason Cheney didn't want to make a public announcement right away? And is Cheney answerable to anyone in the White House?

The Newsweeklies

Nancy Gibbs and Mike Allen write in Time that Bush gently pushed Cheney to go public during breakfast Wednesday morning: "Bush and Cheney had a quiet talk. According to a Republican official, the President told Cheney how much he too loved [Cheney's shooting victim, Harry] Whittington. He acknowledged what a crushing experience it must have been to see Whittington fall after Cheney pulled the trigger on a bird, failing to see his friend nearby. But it was time to defuse the furor that followed."

Gibbs and Allen also write: " 'Some people in the White House are worried that this will hasten the start of the formal lame-duck period, which they were hoping to put off until after the midterm elections,' said a Republican official. 'This showed a weakened President and a Vice President in a bubble within a bubble.' "

In fact, Gibbs and Allen describe a "Cheneyland" where aides work in a culture of deference and reverence.

"It was Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, now indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, who designed Cheneyland. . . . Libby's successor, David Addington, was viewed as so unyielding and difficult when he was the Vice President's counsel that he has poor relations with many West Wing aides, who are referred to collectively in Cheneyland as 'across the street.' "

The shooting took place Saturday afternoon. John Cloud writes in Time: "At about 8 a.m. Sunday, a Cheney aide called strategist Mary Matalin, who regularly advises the Vice President. The aide read her a statement about the accident that Cheney had considered releasing. . . . But the statement 'didn't say much of anything,' Matalin says -- not even that Cheney was the shooter. Matalin then spoke with a second aide and with Cheney's family and heard different versions of what had happened in the shooting. She decided no statement should be released amid the confusion. Matalin spoke with Cheney, and, she says, they agreed that 'a fuller accounting, with an eyewitness,' would be preferable."

Cloud also notes: "Wildlife officials say the most common cause of hunting accidents is a shooter's swinging on game outside the safe zone of fire, as Cheney did. But as generic as the incident was, there are some unanswered questions about that day. For instance, why hasn't the Secret Service released its report? And why hasn't the local sheriff released the text of the depositions his office conducted?"

Evan Thomas writes in Newsweek about a new interview with Cheney's hostess, Katharine Armstrong: "Armstrong, watching from an off-road vehicle about a hundred yards away, saw Whittington fall. A team of Secret Service agents bolted out of the car and ran past her, one of them shouting an expletive. Gun in hand, Cheney rushed over to the fallen Whittington."

Thomas also writes about the immediate aftermath: "That night, according to a senior White House official who refused to be identified discussing a sensitive matter, Cheney did not speak to either Bush or the White House staff or his own press people. He did speak with David Addington, his chief of staff and former lawyer who is a strong proponent of executive power and secrecy."

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